What is Agile Manufacturing?

One thing manufacturers can count on is on any given day, they’ll be challenged to adapt to change. With the right technology, however, agile manufacturing organizations have the power to respond, adapt, and optimize altered processes to consistently deliver the quality products their market demands – regardless of what shows up on the schedule

Manufacturers continually deal with change. Customers change specifications. Regulations evolve, and new requirements are added. Parts and materials availability and preferred vendors vary. New competitors create pressure in the market. And recently, the coronavirus pandemic required new processes, including health screenings, social distancing, and remote work when possible. 

How businesses respond to those changes can be a major differentiator that impacts customer satisfaction and loyalty and often correlates with market share. Adopting agile manufacturing can provide businesses with the capabilities they need to manage and effectively adapt to change, confronting disruption head-on. 

How Does Agile Manufacturing Differ from Lean Manufacturing?

Although there are some similarities, agile manufacturing is different than lean methodology. Lean’s primary focuses are delivering the value that customers see in your products and reducing waste in your operation. Agile manufacturing can be a part of a lean operation, but it specifically addresses the business’ ability to respond by providing the tools and processes they need to adapt to the unexpected. 

The most successful agile manufacturing operations plan and implement well-thought-out processes that include effective ways to communicate change throughout the organization. They also develop ways to share data, facilitate collaboration among departments, and identify and address potential problems early so they don’t become larger, more costly issues later.  

With established processes in place to manage change, agile manufacturing saves time and maintains a solid level of productivity even in times of disruption. It also ensures that change won’t negatively impact product quality or customer satisfaction. 

Agile Manufacturing Needs the Right Tools

A company that wants to increase its agility will find that an enterprise resource planning (ERP) tool or other system that’s slow, outdated and difficult to use will hold them back. A manufacturing management system that supports greater agility should deliver:

Centralized Data Access

The system must have the ability to serve as the hub for a digitized, connected environment in which data flows freely, and it should create a single source of truth that the entire organization can rely on. It’s not as important to have a strict, authoritative source for the information, but rather, to allow people at the company to access to the data.

Visibility

Use a platform that gives teams a way to document changes to parts, materials, or processes so that there is a record of production and a means to analyze the impact those changes had on product quality. 

Collaboration

Teams must have the ability to share data and work together to align during times of change or routine production. The platform should be accessible to all teams, including engineering, purchasing, production, shipping, marketing, and finance. It should also have a configurable interface so that each department’s employees have the data most relevant to them at their fingertips. 

Inventory Traceability

The system must provide real-time inventory data, making information accessible to all team members and include parts and raw materials on hand, inventory used in work in process (WIP), and minimize waste and cost that changes can create. This should go beyond traditional inventory management and up into the supply chain and down into manufacturing and operations.

Integrations

To enable greater efficiency, automation, and deeper insights from data analysis, an agile manufacturing management tool should integrate with other systems and applications, including data collection, production management, accounting and finance systems, and advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), and robotics. 

Data Analysis

The system should eliminate manual processes related to assessing the impact of change on quality, labor or process performance, demand, and profitability. The analytics engine should also have the ability to use both real-time and historical data to predict potential issues, assist with better forecasting and generate insights that can improve processes. 

Los Angeles-based defense and commercial manufacturer Epirus uses First Resonance’s cloud-based ion platform for its agile manufacturing operation. The platform enables increased manufacturing throughput and greater efficiency. However, it also enhances visibility into material flow and provides deeper insights into quality issues and transparency with suppliers. Additionally, ion trace has provided Epirus with the ability to track serialized components to find them and take action if a defect or compliance issue is discovered. The platform also meets Epirus’ security requirements by complying with regulations, including ITAR, FedRAMP, and HIPAA.  

The ion platform also allows Epirus to monitor and track team performance and analyze progress toward business goals without performing manual time studies. The tool analyzes vital data to provide insights into necessary manufacturing process improvements. 

Agile Manufacturing is Changing the Game

One thing manufacturers can count on is on any given day, they’ll be challenged to adapt to change. With the right technology, however, agile manufacturing organizations have the power to respond, adapt, and optimize altered processes to consistently deliver the quality products their market demands – regardless of what shows up on the schedule